Tag Archives: canlit

Detailing the Angst of the Workplace | Review of “The Big Dream” by Rebecca Rosenblum (2011) Biblioasis

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The beauty of a good book is that it captures the complexities of real life that we readers endure in a simple manner. We want to see our world told through the eyes of others in order to better understand ourselves. We all endure the complex dynamics of a workplace – the interactions of co-workers, the placements of our desks, the failings of equipment, etc – yet we feel alone in our frustrations.  But, alas, we aren’t. Rebecca Rosenblum has given our workplace angst some references points in her book The Big Dream.

Page 9 – Dream Big

The cafeteria was closed for renovations and the temporary lunchroom was in the basement. In fact, the temporary lunchroom was actually a meeting room with tables, folding chairs, a microwave, four vending machines, and no windows. Many employees chose to eat at their desks, but some made use of the room.

Clint peeled the plastic off his Crackerz’n’chese.

Cheze does not look like an English word.” said Anna. She was eating unstirred fruit-at-the-bottom yoghurt.

“Still delicious.” Luddock was eating a mustard-soaked sandwich. The sheer yellow bread revealed the pink of bologna.

“Of course.” Anna reached the fruit layer and beamed into her plastic cup.

“Listen -” Clint leaned forward “Remember, last Tuesday -?”

“No!” Luddock waved his sandwich. Bread flapped away from meat. “I download all previous-week memories to the main server at midnight on Saturdays. Frees up disc space for current work.”

“Luddock, no!” Anna squawked, mouth full of pureed berries. “This is not a Tech Support situation. Do not make Tech jokes.

“Actually, only Tech is sitting at this table.”

“Lunch is our own time. We could be sitting with another department, people who don’t even work  here. We shouldn’t make this a closed conversation.”

This was one of those books that I just couldn’t put down. It felt like Rosenblum has captured a slice of my life in it. (And no doubt many of these experiences in this book must have come from real-life experience.) The book centres around the company Dream Inc. a somewhat tired and broken publishing firm. Rosenblum has exacted a series of stories around people who work in this company to show how the dynamic of this firm exists. And in doing so has reflected a true reality that many of us endure.

Page 132-133 Research

When Research got off the bus at 8:45 the next morning, there was a silver-blue airplane high above her head. It had a fish painted vertically on the tail, as if it was diving. the fish was blue, too, brighter than the plane. Brightest blue of all was the sky.

Indoors was mainly grey but the blue beamed in through the enormous window, which someone somehow had washed, inside and out.

She looked into the exact definition of teal, the blogs of MuchMusic VJs that her sons liked, the calorie content of chili, the average woman’s desired amount of oral sex versus experienced. She sent these facts to various editors at Dream Fashion, Dream Teen, Dream Woman. She stared out the window, The sky was a medium blue-green, more blue than green: teal.

She walked through the vast empty space between her desk and the window – even the other researchers’ desks had been removed now. She had always threaded through them like a rope through a grommet, and now there was too much space. She had liked her colleagues; everyone boiled extra water in case someone else wanted tea. She had no way of finding them now, out there in their real lives.

Back at her desk, Research found an enthusiastic email from Dream Woman regarding her facts about oral pleasure, requesting further research. The editor did not mention the chili information (surprisingly low fat).

Googling “techniques+cunnilingus” brought many suggestions, but they repeated from website to website, or even within one – “light feathery kisses to the inner thigh” seemed much the same as “light feathery kisses up and down the leg.” She wondered how else to reteach this, eyed the framed photo of her husband in his canoe, and sent off her report.

She boiled a single cup of water for tea. She ate her yoghurt early. She looked out the window at a helicopter rising, possibly carrying the executive team from an internet start-up with a bold innovation for something. She wanted to research using reality, not the Internet. She wanted to be good at her job and interesting to her family. She wanted to be someone who found job in more than just what her husband got up to with his tongue.

Rosenblum’s language is simple and frank which makes these stories so realistic and believable. There are terms which are well-known trademarks which gives the reader the true impression that they are witnessing something out of a real workplace. And Rosenblum’s explorations of thoughts and emotions are direct and true. Nothing here is held back or questioned. These stories truly feel like a slice of real life.

Page 144 – Loneliness

Theirs was a flirtation of short emails and patchy cellphone calls. Once, a birthday card curled into a FedEx tube. Once – and nervously – lunch alone together in the employee cafeteria. Cheese cannelloni and diet Coke for both. Except for that first surreptitious caress of a thigh, several too-lingering arm-squeezes, and once when he held her coat for her and she, reaching backwards, missed entirely and stroked her palm down the flat expanse of his belly – except for these moments, there had been no physical contact at all.

Privately, they cursed themselves for teenaged fantasies that could, doubtless lead only down alleys of frustration and masturbation. Desire only increases loneliness.

There had been moments of opportunity unrealized, when they were both perhaps stunned to realize their own limits. Both had attended a two-day trade show, sitting together at a particle-board demonstration, at a Kitchen of the Future demonstration, at an Ikea demonstration. They had sat together in the bar, and talked of the pets they had as children, animals now dead. They talked of their parents who were dead now, too, and how lonely it felt to walk the earth knowing their parents were dead. They talked about, or at least each somehow managed to mention, what their hotel room numbers were.

Rebecca Rosenblum has created a brilliant piece of literature with The Big Dream. This collection of insights into a workplace is bluntly honest and true. A great read and one that will create reflections and considerations.

*****

Link to Biblioasis’ website for The Big Dream

Link to Rebecca Rosenblum’s website

“(T)here are many, many details that made their way from family history and into DRAGON SPRINGS ROAD – so yes, I’m still drawing from family history. These small incidents and anecdotes breathe life into the setting, because they’re accounts of real events.” Q&A with author Janie Chang on her new novel

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Janie Chang enthralled many readers with her first novel Three Souls. She had carefully crafted that work with a mixture of history, emotion, mysticism, and romance. Now Janie has come out with a second book called Dragon Springs Road and it promises to be just an equally endearing read. Chang recently answered a few questions for me.

******

1)      First off, could you give a bit of an outline of Dragon Springs Road?

The novel is set during the early decades of 20th century China, and opens with a young girl named Jialing who’s been abandoned in the courtyard of an old estate outside Shanghai. She finds out very quickly that her life is going to be terrible, because she’s a girl, orphaned, and worst of all, Eurasian. Even though she’s taken in as a bondservant by the family that moves into the estate, Jialing’s life is always going to be difficult. The two main concerns in her life are: how can she survive once the family is done with her, and how can she find her mother? It’s a turbulent time in Chinese history – the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the birth of a new republic, the rise of warlords, and all sorts of social upheaval. There’s a murder, political intrigue, supernatural elements that include a Fox spirit, and themes of race and identity, acceptance and friendship.

2)      Your website states that you draw on family stories for your inspiration for your writing? What or who inspired your to write this book?

 My first novel, Three Souls, was inspired by my grandmother’s life, so the premise was taken from family history. Dragon Springs Road, on the other hand, started off as a detour while researching turn-of-the-century Shanghai when I came across references to the Eurasians who lived during pre-War China. Imagine pre-War Shanghai and its decadent reputation. There were thousands of children born to prostitutes and poor women. If they survived infanticide the girls were often put to work in brothels. They were unwanted and unacknowledged by Chinese and Westerners, an embarrassment to both sides. So I tried to imagine what life might’ve been like for such a child, to grow up in a society that valued males, family connections, and lineage. 

But there are many, many details that made their way from family history and into Dragon Springs Road – so yes, I’m still drawing from family history. These small incidents and anecdotes breathe life into the setting, because they’re accounts of real events.

3)  On your website, you have enclosed photos that provide readers some insight for the book. Did you do much outside research for the book? If yes, what exactly did you do?

Wow. I’m so glad you checked out the Gallery (Click for link). It’s meant to help readers visualize the world of the novel. As for research, you start with the least expensive – online research. And that includes looking for books that might be helpful. I bought a LOT of books, because while they might be available at a library, I like to have them right there on my shelf to flip through as needed. It feels as though I used only 10% of all the information I researched! If you love history, you have to be disciplined when doing research or else you end up down the rabbit hole.  Even though both Three Souls and Dragon Springs Road contain elements of fantasy, they are solidly researched. They are historical novels.

It was actually quite challenging because there were almost no contemporary accounts of the lives of Eurasian orphans and the poor; I found some academic books about Eurasians in China, but much of those accounts were of biracial Chinese from the upper and middle-classes, who were literate and whose lives were documented. There was almost nothing when it came to the far larger population of the poor and orphaned; back in those days, no one wanted to know. Then a friend suggested looking into the memoirs of women missionaries and that really helped because those women were the ones who ran schools and orphanages, who could remark on what happened to the children. 

4) Dragon Springs Road may have just come out but it looks like reaction to it has been very positive. Is that the case? Have there been any memorable comments to the book that you care to share?

 This is my second novel, so I think my publishers have more to work with in terms of readership and media attention – they’re no longer trying to promote a one-book author! Memorable comments? Well, I suffered from the Dreaded Sophomore Novel Syndrome while writing Dragon Springs Road and thought that it was going to be a terrible book! So when my editors came back after reading the manuscript and said it was an even better, more accomplished novel than the first, I was so relieved! So the email from my editor was definitely memorable.

5)      Are you planning on partaking on any public readings of Dragon Springs Road at all? If yes, are there any dates/events that you are looking forward to participating in?

I’ve had a couple of events locally (in the Vancouver area) including the Canadian launch; also the US book launch at Kepler’s Books (Click for link) (Menlo Park, CA) and Vroman’s Bookstore (Click for link) (Pasadena). I’m really looking forward to the first literary festival of the year, which is the Galiano Literary Festival (Click for linkheld on one of our beautiful Gulf Islands. Everything that’s been scheduled for sure so far is on my Events page (Click for link).

6) You seem to be active on both social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Are you hoping that readers connect with you through those means to comment on this book? How do you like using those means of communication in relation to your writing?

Social media is a requirement these days for authors unless you’re Elena Ferrante, who every author envies for having sidestepped the time drain that’s social media. I’m active on Facebook and Twitter, probably more Facebook than Twitter. In general, social media makes me nervous. My background is in high tech and I am so aware of the privacy issues surrounding these free services, such as what corporations can do with data mining to cross-reference your personal information from different sources. And don’t even get me started on the decline of civil conversation in an age of tweets. 

On the other hand, I’ve become friends with readers and other authors through social media, from reaching out to them and vice versa, so I shouldn’t complain. I know that social media makes it easier for readers to ask questions. When I don’t have time to write a good blog, Facebook is a good place to post an article about something that I’m reading and thinking about.  There are friends I would lose touch with if not for social media.

7) Your website offers a special section for book clubs (and states that you will even participate in a book-clubs discussion groups via Skype). Have you participated in many book-club activities? Is that something you enjoy doing?

It’s good to get out of the writing den! Skype is not as nice as face-to-face, but it means you can meet with book clubs anywhere. Last year HarperCollins New Zealand organized one with a book club in Queenstown, on the South Island of (New Zealand) !

8) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

Absolutely. Novel #3 is all outlined. I’m really excited about the premise and can’t wait for the flurry of promotion for Dragon Springs Road to be finished so that I can really get down to writing. What I can say is that the third novel is inspired by family history. Again. And it mixes history with the supernatural. Again.

*****

Link to Harper Collins Canada’s webpage for Dragon Springs Road

Link to Janie Chang’s website

“I love that the title resonated with him. I could see it in his face. It helps remind me of poetry’s potential to reach humans-at-large, not just writers and their friends.” | Q&A with Poet Kilby Smith-McGregor

Kilby Smith-McGregor has had a busy time since her book Kids In Triage came out last May. But being busy for her may not be a bad thing for somebody as insightful and talented as her. In the Q&A listed below, she talks about the book, other projects and her upcoming schedule. No doubt we will be hearing a lot more about her soon.

kids

 

1) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of Kids In Triage? Was there something specific that occurred that made you want to write the book?

Late last winter I was visiting my uncle’s family farm near Fordwich, Ontario; he knew I had a book coming out and asked me what it was called. I said Kids In Triage and he took a moment’s pause and replied, “I guess that’s…a whole generation…more than one.” He’s a brilliant guy, a geologist, but not a ‘lit-culture’ guy. I love that the title resonated with him. I could see it in his face. It helps remind me of poetry’s potential to reach humans-at-large, not just writers and their friends. The most amazing part of publishing a book so far has been hearing from readers, real people, who bring their own context and perspective to the work.

 

The word triage is a medical and military term for classifying and prioritizing injuries in a mass casualty situation. In this collection of poems, I wanted to explore how we identify and deal with emergencies, both public and private. The contemporary world is a mess; the 24-hour news feed is on fire; so, where do we put our energy, where will our care and intervention make a difference? The book is also very much meditation on the body, on gender, violence, and the dynamics of families. These are abiding personal and philosophical obsessions for me, so it doesn’t completely surprise me that the material I eventually shaped into my first book circles around these questions.

2) Your website lists you as both a writer and a graphic artist. Is there one occupation you prefer over the other or are they both compatible in enjoyment for you?

Writing can be a near-transcendent vocation, but it is an absolutely terrible profession. I can think of maybe two or three writers in this country who make a living from literary writing alone. Many teach or work as editors and copywriters, and that can siphon off a lot of your literary juice, depending on your temperament. What I love about being a commercial graphic artist is that it’s creative, but in a completely different way. Even when I act as my own art director, my graphic design projects are in service of someone else’s vision or message, and I like collaborating with clients on that, using my skills and experience to help them represent themselves aesthetically.

 3) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

The major touchstone writers of my literary coming-of-age—for different reasons—are likely JM Coetzee, David Foster Wallace, Marilynne Robinson, and Canadian novelist Michael Helm. Until recently, even my work in poetry has been primarily influenced by prose writers. These are amazing writers, but also not culturally or linguistically representative of the full scope of brilliant stuff that’s available out there. I’ve been diving into the work of contemporary Canadian writers who are relatively new to me this summer: Cherie Dimaline’s story collection, A Gentle Habit (Kegedonce, 2015), and Vivek Shraya’s novel She of the Mountains (Arsenal Pulp, 2014); in addition to Madhur Anand’s Index for Predicting Catastrophes (M&S, 2015), and Soraya Peerbaye’s Tell: poems for a girlhood (Pedlar, 2015), on the poetry front. Then there are recent works by American poets Ocean Vuong, and Jericho Brown, as well as the stunning lyric memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place (Graywolf, 2011), by Binyawanga Wainaina. Wainaina’s book follows his coming-of-age in Kenya, and I had the chance to read it while travelling in Kenya in August—a real treat. I have a lot to learn and discover as a reader and I’m always eager for recommendations.

4) Is there much of a book/reading tour being planned for Kids In Triage? If yes, are there any specific events that you are looking forward?

I’m thrilled to be reading with poet Roxanna Bennet at knife | fork | book, a new Toronto series, on November 3rd [event link: https://knifeforkbook.com/2016/09/11/poets-meet-november-3rd/]. k|f|b is hosted by ever-dynamic reader and curator Jeff Kirby, who has launched a poetry-and-small-press-only bookshop at Rick’s Cafe in Kensington market. You can check out his amazing blog, pictures of the shop, and info about in-store readings on his blog [link: https://knifeforkbook.com/]. I’ll also be in Hamilton, Ontario, at the Lit Live Reading Series [link: http://litlive.blogspot.ca] on December 4th, with friend and fellow Wolsak & Wynn poet, James Lindsay, as well as some other interesting writers across genres.

In the new year I’ll be visiting the Queen’s University undergraduate creative writing program, run by poet Carolyn Smart, and then Carolyn and I will travel from Kingston to Montreal to read together at the Resonance Reading Series [series link: http://www.resonancereadingseries.com] on February 7th. I’m thrilled to be touring with Carolyn; she’s a remarkable poet for her unflinching treatment of violence—as exemplified the brilliant, dark monologues of Hooked, and her new collection Careen, which undercuts the Hollywood treatment of Bonnie & Clyde. The trip is also significant to me because she’s the founder of the Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers, which I received in 2010, and has continued to be a kind supporter of my work from afar. I’m looking forward to the chance to spend some time together talking about poetry, prose, and Bronwen.

New events are updated regularly on my website: kilbysm.com

 5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

I’m a spectacularly slow prose writer, but in the wake of publishing the poetry collection, I’ve doggedly returned to work on my short story manuscript, All Swimmers. I’m hoping to finish a full draft in the spring. The story collection shares many points of intersection with the poetry, so I hope it will be of interest to readers of Kids in Triage when it eventually comes out.

6) You seem to be an active participant on Twitter. How do you feel about the use of social media in relation to promoting your work? Will you be expanding your presence onto Facebook and other social media platforms?

I joined Twitter in the fall of 2015 and I thought I would hate it. But the access to interesting links and current conversations in the community won me over. I’m not sure it’s a very reliable way to promote your own work if you’re not engaged with it at a professional level (i.e. curating regular ‘branded’ content and using platforms like Hootsuite to manage your activity)—but I do think it’s nice to have a record of things you’re interested in, if people want to know more about you. It’s also a quick, friendly way to give a shout out of support and amplify the voices of others. I have no plans to join Facebook, though the pressure from my family is unrelenting.

7) Your bios have you listed as spending a lot of time in the Guelph-Toronto area? Is that where you currently reside? And is there a lot in the way of cultural activities in that area that keep you engaged?

I lived in Guelph for some of my childhood, and I also taught fiction at the University there as part of the Open Learning Program, but Toronto is my home these days. Toronto offers an embarrassment of riches in terms of cultural and literary events. Not-going-out can prove more difficult than going out, but I find it’s important to take time to curl up with my dog and just read or watch TV some evenings. Some of my favourite ongoing lit events happen here, though. I’m a huge fan of the HIJ House Reading Series [link: http://bookthug.ca/hij-house-reading-series/ ] graciously hosted by BookThug publishers Jay and Hazel Millar in their family home. Hazel bakes homemade pie for each installment, which is a pretty amazing feat—so come for the readings and stay for the pie! I also love the Pivot Reading Series [link: https://pivotreadings.ca], which has been run by Sachiko Murakami, and most recently Jake McArthur Mooney, and will be transitioning to a new host in the coming months; it has a great legacy and has showcased writers of all different stripes from across Canada and beyond.

*****

Link to Wolsak and Wynn’s website for Kids In Triage

 

Learning Along with Prue | Review of “Freight” by Kathryn Mockler (2015) Found Press Media

Freight

There is this difficult notion in society that families are suppose to be this perfect unit that provides us comfort and nurturing. Yet the truth is that families are made up of individuals whose personalities are impossible to deal with. When we try to deal with those people as children, the impression they leave on us can be damaging on us for the rest of our lives. But we need to openly reflect on those people in our adult lives to deal with those traumas they caused us. And reading literature helps us reflect on our own families and our upbringings instead of repressing angers and pains. And Kathryn Mockler’s ebook Freight is a great example of such a story.

Page 5

My grandmother is the type of woman that always remembers to stand up straight and to tell others to do the same. On our yearly visits to Peterborough, I try to avoid my grandmother as much as possible. She doesn’t think I’m very bright. She doesn’t think my mother works enough with me, and so, in the week we spend there, she is determined to make me smarter. She brings out flash cards and makes me do spelling bees for money.

-Look, Vera, look at that. She can’t add, my grandmother says. -Prue, don’t count on your fingers.

I give mother “the look” until she finally says, -Leave her alone. She gets enough of that at school.

We are dropped into Prue’s life just as she is becoming self-aware and questioning the world around her. And there is something wrong with the world around her or at least with the people who should be caring for her in this world. But what is it? As we follow through Prue’s visit with her grandparents, we read as she begins to realize perhaps no one is perfect.

Page 10

My mother gets herself another beer from the cooler. I watch my mother watch Dermot puts his arm absentmindedly around Margaret’s shoulder.

-She drives me crazy too, I say.

My mother laughs. -It doesn’t really affect you because she’s not your mother. You’re just lucky I tried so hard not to be like her.

I don’t know when I noticed my mother getting drunk. Maybe it was when she started talking to that man, a friend of Dermot’s. It seemed like one moment she was fine and the next she was slurring her words. It’s the slurring that bothers me the most because then everyone else knows how drunk she is.

There is a complex therapy that seemed to happen when reading this simple coming-of-age story. We build an empathy with Prue but we also ponder our own lives when we back in Prue’s age. We carefully consider our upbringing and the people around us at that time. And we then look at ourselves now. Do we act better? Do we behave better to the youngster around us now?

Page 12

I feel a bit sorry for my grandmother. She probably has hurt feelings. When my mother leaves the room to get ready, I don’t follow her. I’m glad my mother is going out. I don’t even want to look at her.

I think my grandmother has sensed that something is wrong because she doesn’t bother  me all night. No flash cards or spelling bees. We have a light supper and watch TV.

Kathryn Mockler has a great way of making readers seriously consider their world around themselves with her words and that is exactly what she has done with Freight. Not only do we build empathy with the character but we ponder our own existence on several levels. In short, doing what any piece of literature should do.

*****

Link to Kathryn Mockler’s website

Link to Found Press Media’s website for Freight

 

“I wanted to write a Canadian book that dealt with violence, small scale, but very real violence we often ignore or don’t read about. It’s a currency we trade with each other.” | Q&A with author Andrew F. Sullivan

Waste

I was totally thrilled a few weeks ago when I discovered Andrew F. Sullivan collection of short stories All We Want Is Everything. (Link to my review) The book seemed to cover a certain reality that I am aware of yet is very rarely discussed. But then the book seemed to do something for me what any good cultural artifact is suppose to do but rarely does these days: become a topic of conversation. Online, offline, in emails and over coffees, the book kept creeping into my conversations and people seemed eager to hear about it. So I was thrilled this week when Sullivan agreed to answer a few questions. No doubt his thoughts will pique an further interest in his works for us readers.

*****

1) Your latest novel is entitled WASTE. Could you give an outline of it?

WASTE is about bad people making bad decisions because they believe it is the fastest way to deal with a problem. It’s about the collapse of a small Ontario city during the post-industrial decline that swept a lot of blue collar communities in the province. It is a surreal, nightmare version of these cities over the course of one December weekend. The plot kicks off with a wannabe skinhead and a part-time butcher accidentally running over the local drug kingpin’s pet lion and everything that follows circles back to this event. It’s a bit madcap and vicious. It’s a book about dread, about failing to measure up, and about trying to do the right thing when everyone else has already surrendered to their demons. And I hope it’s funny too, but that’s not up to me.

2) What inspired you to write WASTE (if anything?) How long did it take to write?

 
A lot of things, but primarily all the bullshit lies guys on the afternoon shift would tell each other when I worked in a liquor warehouse. I wanted to create a world where the things they said were actually true (and a lot of them were, in one way or another). I wanted to write a Canadian book that dealt with violence, small scale, but very real violence we often ignore or don’t read about. It’s a currency we trade with each other. It behooves the people who ignore it to continue ignoring it, to claim it isn’t there. But it is and it’s real and it’s coming.
Ontario’s fairly loose zoo laws also played a factor.

3) It has been a few years now since ‘All We Want is Everything.’ It has been noted on a few fronts as being a great book, but how are you finding the public’s reaction to it?

It’s a short story collection, so no matter what, the audience will be small. However, they are great readers and I am incredibly lucky to have this book end up in so many wise readers’ hands, readers who really interrogate the work they consume and respond to the stories I try to tell. I think the short story is a great form, but it does have limited appeal. To see this book still going three years later with new readers really does bring me a lot of happiness. It’s good to find stories that can last.
There is an assumption that everything in AWWIE is true or real, but a lot of the stories are very surreal and strange, including “Mutations“, “Towers“, and “Cloud.” I try to approach the surreal with a very upfront approach, so that may be why readers are willing to go along with the uncomfortable, unreal parts of my work. And I truly appreciate that. I think sometimes the uncanny gives us an opportunity to reexamine our assumptions and approach narrative with fresh eyes.
ARP-All we want-v1.indd

4) There has been a few discussions in my circles about the cover photo of “All We Want Is Everything?” Did you choose the image for the cover of the book. Do the two dogs in that image symbolize anything for you?

I did choose the photo. I was incredibly lucky to work with a small publisher that valued my input. John K. Samson (of The Weakerthans) was my editor and he really put in the effort to track down the photographer, Leigh Ledare. Leigh was extremely generous and kind to allow us to use the photo, which I had found five years earlier in an issue of VICE when it was still primarily a print magazine. I actually had a print out of it attached to the inside of my closet door at my parents’ place, which is still hanging there.
Yes, I do believe the dogs are symbolic for this book. They are circling one another, on the cusp of the fight, and that tension is something I try to work into my own fiction. I am interested in the build-up and the aftermath, the moment before the release and everything that follows. I think it captures a moment of intention. I think it captures a moment of dread, and I think dread might be my biggest obsession.
 

5) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

 
That’s always a big question and it is always changing. I will say I am a big fan of Richard Price and Richard Yates, I think they both tap into unique strains of desperate and angry America. With Price, its good to start with CLOCKERS and with Yates, I will have to say THE EASTER PARADE.
Toni Morrison’s THE BLUEST EYE was also a huge, huge influence on WASTE and I think about that book often. She has an incredible ability to plant a seed of dread in you and watch it grow. I’m also a fan of Harry Crews, if only for the audacity of his work and his drive to continue writing his own madcap tales. A FEAST OF SNAKES is a favourite from him.
Recently, I’ve been enjoying the works of Yuri Herrera, a Mexican author, whose short novels SIGNS PRECEDING THE END OF THE WORLD and THE TRANSMIGRATION OF BODIES offer up allegories for the unsettling, uncanny world of the border and the complications of violence and blood in modern Mexico. I’m also enjoying the strange, beautiful short stories of Amelia Gray’s GUTSHOT this week.

6) You will be speaking at Toronto’s Word on the Street festival on Sept. 25. Are you looking forward to it?  Are public-speaking events something you enjoy doing?

 
Yes, I look forward to almost all my readings or chances to do public events because it offers a chance to actually meet readers and engage with people who may otherwise never here of your book. Thousands upon thousands of books are published every year and so few of them are read by a wide audience, so these opportunities are very important for any writer. And what self-involved person doesn’t love to be the centre of attention for 7 brief minutes during a reading. No, a lot of writers occasionally abhor readings and I’ve been to plenty of bad ones myself, but a good reading or a good public speaker can really make a story sing. It’s up to the author to make it a performance and to choose a piece that reads well aloud, not just on the page.

7) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

 
I’ve got another novel that’s just come to a close about a man who believes he’s immortal and human trafficking in Canada, but we’ll see what happens. I’ve also got a collection of stranger, creepier short stories that I’ve been sitting on for a bit. We’ll see where they end up.

8) You seem to be active on the social-media app Twitter. How do you like using social media in relation to promoting your work? Are you on any other social media sites?

 
I don’t think social media is a great place to seriously promote your work, but it is a really great place to find other writers, publishers and artists who you enjoy and to express your enjoyment. If those people enjoy the work you post or your online presence, then maybe they’ll buy your book, but I think a lot of online social media promotion ends up causing more cringing than sales. It is useful to announce your publications and readings, but a daily push of your book might turn off more people than it brings into the fold. I use other social media like most people in my generation, but I’m not too invested in it beyond making jokes on Twitter.

9) You biography states how you grew up in Oshawa and now live in Toronto. How do you like living in Toronto right now? Are there any cultural institutions in T.O. that you truly enjoy and gain enlightenment from?

 
I like Toronto a lot, it’s a great cultural hub and it allows me to meet and support a lot of other young writers. Ontario itself has a lot of small towns where you can end up isolated. For now, this is where I want to be. I still have a lot of love for my hometown, but Toronto is where the jobs are for me currently.
If we’re talking cultural institutions, I am forever thankful that we have the TIFF Lightbox here. The programming they run year round is incredible, the audiences are usually great and some of the guests they bring in for Q+A or lecture series often lead to some incredibly unique and treasured experiences. I will never forget Guillermo Del Toro breaking down the history of the Gothic romance before we all watched Hitchcock’s Rebecca. No movies outside your regular blockbusters ever came to my hometown, so it’s pretty great to live in a city that will run a Brian De Palma retrospective and an Andrzej Żuławski retrospective at the same time.
*****

“What made me a poet? Curiosity. The thrill of adventure, of new worlds.” | Q&A with poet Penn Kemp

penn-kemp
Image of Penn Kemp linked from her WordPress site. Photo by Dennis Siren

Penn Kemp has been not only been a poet but a cultural icon around my home town of London, Ontario, Canada. Yes, her written words have inspired but her actions in a complex number of fronts have also been a source of enlightenment and engagement for numerous people. It was an honour a few weeks ago when she sent me an advance copy of her new work Barbaric Cultural Practice  (Link to my review) but discussing it only seem to capture a bit of this thought-provoking individual. She agreed to answer a few questions for me here, adding a bit more insight into her and her work.

*****

1) What inspired you to first write poetry? You have been involved in other forms of writing (including play writing). Does poetry hold any special traits for you that other writings don’t have?

My grandmothers were grand sources of inspiration. My Strathroy grandmother knew many poems by heart (that delicious phrase!) which she would recite to me in a kind of incantatory lilt.  The sound transported me. My little Irish grandmother told me wild tales of legends that sparked my imagination into new realms of possibility, realms beyond my house and yard.

When my brother was born, my mother no longer had all the time in the world to read to me. So I memorized the nursery rhymes I loved. But that wasn’t enough; I wanted more. I tried to make sense of the black squiggles on the page until they slowly, finally, swam into meaning. What a discovery! It was pure magic to go from reading other people’s poems and stories to writing them myself. I would set up my dolls in a line on the couch and perform to this unfailingly attentive audience. Power to the reader! Power to the writer!”

What made me a poet? Curiosity. The thrill of adventure, of new worlds. I began piecing out the words to myself. I remember the thrill of pure magic when a word would leap into focus, into meaning. The black letters would assume a third dimension; they would dance. I could almost hear them speak to me directly. I was hooked. I wrote my first poem when I was six, excited and amazed at having created through apparent magic something out of nothing with marks on a page. I glimpsed a world in which words had a life of their own, just as toys did. I knew that if I could wake at the right time at night I would catch my toys at play. So too, I felt words could be surprised and fixed onto the page. If I listened closely enough, words would well up in my head and emerge as a poem.

Writing that first poem was the first time that I recall consciously feeling that I was doing an adult thing— creating something entirely on my own, assuming independence— growing up! I felt like the Little Red Hen in the nursery story: “‘I can do it myself,’ said The Little Red Hen, and she did.”

2) You recently sent me an advance copy of “Barbaric Cultural Practice.” (Thank you!) How long did it take you to write it? Is there any special hopes you have for the book?

Many of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice have been culled from performance pieces that have been honed over many years and produced on CD/DVD, but not in book form till now. I’m grateful for family and friends’ encouragement en route and ongoing during the evolution of these poems. The list is long and extends back decades.

Poetry needs to be heard as well as read, so I have concentrated in recent years on audio renditions and videopoems in collaboration with Bill Gilliam, John Magyar, Dennis Siren and (always!) Gavin Stairs. How exciting to be able to offer links to video and audio performances of some of these poems through QR codes!

Several of the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice were provoked into being by political events; hence, the title. As an aging activist, I confront by words such issues as climate change and overwhelmingly new technologies. The poems juxtapose the stress of urban life as compared to nature’s round. The poems deal, for example, with the effect of computers on our psyche and with the imprint of electronic media upon perception, consciousness and dream life. Barbaric Cultural Practice pays tribute to our dear Mother World’s enchantments as well as her upheavals. Poetry is my response to the unprecedented complexities of our time.

3) (These next questions is one I know draws fear from other writers when I ask it here but I know some of my followers are eager to know an answer from you.) Who are your favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

I read Canadian poetry and fiction, especially that which our library stocks. Daily, I scan “New Items” from London Library’s website! (Link to that page) Am reading a new edition of Mavis Gallant’s  A fairly good time: with green water, green sky as well as Ann Carson’s Red Doc>. Then on to Margaret Christakos’s Her Paraphernalias: on Motherlines, Sex/Blood/Loss & Selfies.

4) I know you have a reading event planned at Oxford Books on Oct. 11 but do you have any other reading events planned? Are public readings something you enjoy?

I do enjoy public readings. It’s a privilege to share the innermost source of poetry when performing. And I love to hear poets read their work: the timbre of voice precisely matches their written word. Once I’ve heard a poet read, that voice echoes in my mind when I next read the work.

Here are some upcoming events where I’ll be reading:

September 3, 1:30 – 4:30 p.m. With musician Bill Gilliam @ 2pm. Vino Rosso Bar & Restaurant. 995 Bay St., Toronto ON  M5S 3C4, 416 926-1800.

September 27, 8 pm. The Root Cellar, 623 Dundas St. E., London. Launch, Another London, Harmonia Press, harmoniapress@hotmail.com.

October 5, 7:30 p.m. Quattro Book Launch, Toronto, Supermarket Restaurant, 268 Augusta Ave. Free. Contact: info@quattrobooks.ca. Launch of Barbaric Cultural Practice.

October 7, 2016; Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO)  features Paul Dutton and Penn, sound poets. The topic is streaming influences from the ’70’s. Host: Lillian Allen.

October 11, 7 pm. London launch of Barbaric Cultural Practice (Quattro Books). Oxford Book Shop, 262 Piccadilly Street, London N6A 1S4. Contact: Hilary bookorderprocessing@oxfordbookshop.com. Tel: 519-438-8336.

Saturday, October 15, 2016, 2 pm. Reading with Daniel Kolos, Antony Christie. The Garafraxa Café, 131 Garafraxa Street S, (Highway 6), Durham ON. Contact: danielkolos123@gmail.com (Link to The Garafraxa Café’s Facebook page)

5) Are you working on anything new right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

My forthcoming play, The Triumph of Teresa Harris, originated in a short piece for London’s PlayWrights Cabaret at McManus Theatre in 2013. Then it was produced as an hour-long processional play at Eldon House Museum, with one actor and two musicians (co-artistic directors of Light of East Ensemble). More information about the original production, The Dream Life of Teresa Harris is up on https://teresaharrisdreamlife.wordpress.com/. There too are some reviews from the show. I am developing the play into a full length piece with ten or more characters for production at London’s Palace Theatre in March, 2017. The original musicians are participating in the play again.

Teresa Harris was born in 1839 at Eldon House and died in 1928 in England. She tells her amazing life story from her home here.  Born the youngest of a prosperous pioneer family intent on bettering itself, Teresa married a Scottish military man who promised to carry her off to foreign parts she had dreamed of all her life, sickly though she had always been.  Teresa’s story emerges through her own voice and that of her protective mother and her two husbands.  Research reveals that Teresa and her second husband St. George Littledale were the greatest English explorers of their period, travelling further into Asia than any Westerner had.

Hers is an historical life as mediated through my imagination. My visits to beautiful Eldon House brought the era alive.  It was easy to write from Teresa’s perspective since I identified with her and admired her adventurous spirit.  It was fun to imagine her desire to escape the strictures of family convention for more exotic locales. Having been raised in London in the Fifties, I felt the town hadn’t changed all that much from the colonial outpost it had been in Victorian times. It was still very Anglo and class-conscious, patterned upon London, England like a pale shadow of the Mother Country. At twenty-one, I too couldn’t wait to escape, to travel the world!  And I did. I was also happy to return to settle comfortably back in the house I grew up in after forty years away from London.

6) You seem to be active on both Facebook and Twitter. How do you like using those platforms in relation to your writing? Does your WordPress blog site also work well for your writing?

The platforms are a necessity for a working writer to spread the word… and sometimes they are an escape from writing: fun, as well! The virtual communities are engaging: who could have imagined being able to keep in touch with so many people at once. And folks can promote various causes on my (Facebook) group, Support and Promote Canadian Arts and Cultures.

7) You have travelled around the world and still call the London, Ontario, Canada area your home. How do you like living here?

See #5. Yes, London is home. I was born in Strathroy and raised in London. I belong here.

Are there cultural institutions here that you consider unique that inspire your writing? If yes, what are they?

As the City of London’s first Poet Laureate and as writer-in-residence for Creative Aging London, I was very involved in different aspects of the community. Several occasions prompted poems. Other poems were commissioned by groups such as ReForest London.

Western U. gave me a great grounding in literature as a student there. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed teaching classes in Continuing Ed., and as Writer-in-Residence, and hosting a radio show, Gathering Voices, at CHRW. (Link to CHRW’s webpage for “Gathering Voices”)

This fall, I will be working on aspects of the play, including publicity and marketing, with students from Western in the course, Canadian Literature, Creativity, and the Local, with a Community Engaged Learning component. Working with me in this applied learning opportunity, the students will cultivate links with Eldon House and The Palace as part of the project. (Link to the course outline from Western University’s online calendar)

A grant from the London Arts Council allows me to complete the writing of the play this Fall.

It’s been a joy to see several of my Sound Operas mounted at the grand Aeolian Hall and several short plays at the McManus Theatre.

I first became involved in publishing when a local publishing house, Applegarth Follies, asked me to be their poetry editor in 1977. (Josiah Applegarth was London’s first settler). While I edited Twelfth Key, the famous Brick Magazine was published alongside. Another offshoot of Applegarth was Brick Books, still publishing glorious poetry nation-wide some forty years later and still based in London!

*****

Link to Penn Kemp’s WordPress site

Link to Quattro Books website

“A non-fiction writer reports (creatively or otherwise) from reality, and a fiction writer observes, filters, and interprets the same reality and reports from imagination.” | Q&A with author Jowita Bydlowska

Guy

For many for us book fans, reading is not only a means of entertainment but a way to enlighten ourselves about the world and the way people interact in it. As the Autumn 2016 new releases come around, there is a promise of such reads for us. One such book is Jowita Bydlowska’s Guy: Or Why Women Love Me. No doubt this book sounds like it should be both funny and give us something to ponder. Bydlowska answered a few questions for me here about her new book.

*****

A) First off, could you give a bit of an outline of “Guy: Or Why Women Love Me?”

 Hope it’s okay to use our official write-up (it sums it up well): Guy is a successful talent agent who dates models, pop stars and women he meets on the beach. He’s a narcissistic, judgmental snob who rates women’s looks from one to ten; a racist, homophobic megalomaniac who makes fun of people’s weight; a cheating, lying, manipulative jerk who sees his older girlfriend as nothing more than an adornment. His only real friend, besides his dog, is a loser who belongs to a pick-up artist group. Guy is completely oblivious to his own lack of empathy, and his greatest talent is hiding it all…until he meets someone who challenges him in a way he’s never been challenged before.

B) What inspired you to write “Guy?” How long did it take to write it? Was there any research involved in the book?

One summer day in 2011, I was walking on the beach, in a bikini, and this guy walking by checked me out. Unlike most guys’ his glance wasn’t furtive – he seemed very confident and there was something about the way he looked at me that made me think he thought I should be honoured that he bothered to look at me. But perhaps I’m wrong about that interpretation; perhaps my fiction-writing part of the brain was already writing a story… Anyway. I had this thought about what it would be like to be a very good-looking dude who is a narcissist and who believes he could get any woman he’d wanted.

In terms of research, I talked to men about what it’s like to be a straight guy. Also, I have this attractive male friend who’s very popular with women and I’ve asked him his pick-up techniques. Also, I spent some time hanging out on Pick-up Artist Internet forums. Filthy, fascinating stuff.

C) Your online biographies have you listed as both a journalist and a fiction writer. Do you find much differences between the two styles of writing? If yes, explain.

A non-fiction writer reports (creatively or otherwise) from reality, and a fiction writer observes, filters, and interprets the same reality and reports from imagination.

D) Who are you favourite writers? What are you reading right now?

Michel Houellebecq, Bret Easton Ellis, Elana Ferrante, Laura Albert, Sheila Heti, Miranda July, Barbara Gowdy, Joseph Boyden, Lena Andersson, Jessica Knoll, Jim Shepard, Otetessa Moshfegh, Karolina Walclawiak, Douglas Glover, Herman Koch, Leonard Michaels, Lena Dunham, John Fowles, and many more. 

I’m reading apartment listings right now as I’m in the midst of looking for a place.

E)   No doubt you will be working on new items for your journalistic career but are you working on any new books right now? If yes, are there details you care to share?

My agent just sent out my latest novel, Wolves Evolve, to a few publishers here and in the US. The novel is about complicated marriage, adultery, mental illness, aquariums and self discovery. Next, I plan to write a novel about Warsaw Uprising.

F) Your biographies have you listed as living in Toronto? How do you like living there? Are there any cultural institutions that Toronto has that inspire your writing at all?

I’m not a huge fan of Toronto right now – being single and living here (and taking care of a kid) is ridiculously expensive.  I’d like to move to the country. Or Europe. In terms of cultural institutions, I do love International Festival of Authors that happens here ever fall. One of the themes in my newly submitted novel Wolves Evolve is comparison/ contrast between Toronto and a West-coast city like Seattle.

*****

Link to Jowita Bydlowska’s website

Link to Wolsak & Wynn’s webpage for Guy

Making Us Consider Our Actions | Discussion of Penn Kemp’s “Barbaric Cultural Practice”Quattro Books – To Be Launched Autumn 2016

penn-kemp
Image of Penn Kemp linked from her WordPress site

I had been in a bit of a funk with my blog last week. The summer months have been busy on other fronts for me, and my personal reading and reflection time has been somewhat limited. I had been trying to look forward to the autumn new releases in hopes of something invigorating for my mind would come forward. Then a message from Penn Kemp came via Facebook, asking if I would look and review her new book coming out in the fall. I agreed and I found myself enveloped in her Barbaric Cultural Practice. 

Penn Kemp is an icon in the cultural landscape. Her biography page on her blog states she has over 25 books of poetry and drama published, plus six plays and numerous works recorded on different electronic means. But this new work is brilliant in its form.

No doubt, many of us Canadians were shocked last year when the government used the term Barbaric Cultural Practices on several fronts to justify their actions. We were outraged by the term, elected the government out of office and, no doubt, didn’t give the term much thought since. But Kemp has done something enlightening for readers by using the term for this collection of poetry. She has crafted her personal thoughts and views in this work and given all of us something to consider about our own actions. As she told me in the email she sent me with the advance copy:   . . . the poems in Barbaric Cultural Practice pay tribute to our dear Mother World’s enchantments as well as her upheavals. They confront the stresses of urban life as juxtaposed to nature’s round, and deal, for example, with the effect of computers on our psyche and with the imprint of electronic media upon perception, consciousness and dream life. They are a response to the need for action against climate change and a humorous protest against overwhelming technology.

The beauty of me reading poetry at this stage of my life is the admiration of thought and consideration of the human condition that writers of the form have. After spending numerous years attempting a career in the media field, turning to reading and considering literature has been an enlightening experience for me. Literature should cause a reader to consider their world and their actions in the world around them. Penn Kemp has done that for me with her collection  Barbaric Cultural Practice. No doubt I will be reading it again and quoting it here when it is published.

*****

Link to Penn Kemp’s WordPress site (which includes new works)

Link to Quattro Books website

Link to Oxford Book Shop in London, Ontario, Canada. On Tuesday, October 11, 2016 at 7 pm. Penn Kemp will be do a local launch of Barbaric Cultural Practice there.

 

 

The Strategy of a Privateer and a Pirate| Review of “The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan” by Robert Hough (2015) House of Anansi Press

Morgan

We were all raised on the classical stories of pirates. They were fantastic tales that kept us spellbound with concepts of adventures on the high seas brisk with sword fights to find buried treasure. But must the stories end because we have matured into adulthood and our heads are now filled with serious facts and reason. Robert Hough doesn’t think so and he has given us adults the book The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan to rationally spellbind us.

Page 1-2

The judge was a drunk bastard, all right – swaying in his tall-backed chair, that gin-rosin smell wafting off him, his nose a mound of headcheese run through with purple thread. I wasn’t surprised. The world was filled with people who couldn’t bear to be in their own company, and it made no difference if you were rich or poor, loved or loathed. Sometimes, there was only one thing for it.

“I didn’t do it!” I pleaded. “It was an honest game, Your Honour, no foolery or nothing, just a friendly match between men! I’m an upstanding sort, see . . . ”

“I see nothing of the kind, Mr. Wand. As far as I can tell, you’re as slick as an oiled weasel. and you’ve a choice to make. A dozen years in Newgate or deportation to the Isle of Jamaica. The choice is yours. You’ve ten seconds before I decide for you.”

Ten seconds? I didn’t need three seconds. No one survived twelve years in Newgate, not unless you belonged to someone, and even that was no protection against typhoid or madness. On the other hand, Jamaica’s best-known town, a devil’s warren called Port Royal, had a reputation I’d heard about in seamy rat-run taverns, and from the sounds of it I’d fit right in. There was another sorry fact to consider: my pitted face was known by constabulary types all over England, which was making it harder and harder to ply my ignoble trade.

“Jamaica,” I said.

He slammed his gavel and was on to the next.

I was twenty years of age, and up for pretty much anything.

Hough has told the story of Henry Morgan through the eyes of Benny Wand. Wand is a thief and chess player whose actions in 1664 find him deported to Jamaica. There Wand joins up with the infamous Captain Henry Morgan to raid Spanish enclaves in the New World. Wand shows his ability in “hustling” chess games to earn a bit of extra coin. One day he is called upon to visit Morgan and they engage in a game.

Page 102-103

“Good game,” I said. “That was a brilliant gambit, like.”

Yet instead of turning all red and grinny, as if he’d just bedded an earl’s daughter. Morgan studied the board. His chin was in his slender hand, the muscles in his face gone tight as wire. Those grey eyes, knifing through space – he couldn’t take them off the board. He was calculating, thinking, drawing his conclusions. In fact, he looked just the way he had at Villahermosa, staring out over pink bubbling waters. Inside, I felt all wrong.

He looked up. “You ever throw a game with me again Mr. Wand, I’ll have you in the stocks for a fortnight. Do I make myself clear?”

I said nothing. Couldn’t believe it. I’d never met a posh bugger who liked the game more than the idea of winning. It’s the reason none of them are any good at it – it’s just the win they want, their self-regard stoked.

But not Morgan. Not him.

“This time I’m white,” he said as he reset the pieces. A moment later he moved a pawn to queen’s fourth, again warning I’d better give him my best game. We played three more times. Like I said, he was a good player – better than good, even – though no match for someone born with an understanding that on every board there lies a glorious truth and it’s your job to reveal it. Fact was, I heard music when I played chess. When I was getting at that truth, it was like birdsong. When I was crapping it, it was rusty pots clanging together. It was a hammer striking metal. It was a hippo blowing farts from a sackbut.

In two of the games, Morgan stayed with me, through the last was a rout. He lost each game by growing restless and launching attacks that would’ve worked with the burghers he was used to playing but not with me.

“So,” he said when we were done. “You’re a professional.”

There is the right mixture of research and imagination here to make this both an enlightening and entertaining read. We get an understanding of history, planning, politics and even human nature through the thoughts of Wand to appeal to our intellect but we also get the a sense of adventure and emotion too to thrill us. In short the plot has the right amount of strategy and swashbuckling.

Pages 214-215

We marched back through dense jungle and found the dried creek bed we’d left a day earlier. Here we turned right and marched to the edge of the jungle and waited for orders.

Morgan sent a few men into the trees. They came down with branch scrapes on their faces, though they all agreed Panama was a few miles off and beyond that a blue bank of ocean. We trudged through light woods dotted with streams. Around noon the trail opened at the top of a plateau. Down below was a green plain about a mile wide and a mile deep and beyond that was the city.

Course, they were waiting for us, fifteen hundred or more Spaniards on horseback, all in rows. Morgan took this in, jaws gnashing. Beyond the enemy was the city, which looked like Portobello though bigger: it had the same square with a church and lanes leading away, the only difference being there was a square beyond that and another square beyond that as well. My eyes roamed, looking for weakness, and I knew Morgan was doing the same.

“Wand,” he said while pointing. “Do you see it?”

“The hill? Yeah, I do.”

Though the Spaniards had covered the right and centre of the plain, off to one side was a large rise where their horsemen were fewer. Separating this hill from the rest of the plain was a dip in the land; if we stormed that hill via that dip we might draw the enemy to engage us there. And once they were there. And once they were there, it wasn’t hard to imagine all those Spanish horses gumming up and being more hindrance than help. On foot, we’d more easier than them, and if enough of our number weren’t felled, we might even take the hill. From there we could storm the city, flintlocks blazing, murder in our souls, the best part being our plan just might work.

Robert Hough has certainly matured tales of the high seas in his book The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan. It is both enlightening and entertaining read and one worthwhile to enjoy.

*****

Link to Robert Hough’s website

Link to House of Anansi’s website for The Man Who Saved Henry Morgan.

 

The Emotions of the Past | Review of “The Fishers of Paradise” by Rachael Preston (2016) James Street North Books – Wolsak & Wynn

Fishers

It is very easy these days to drive over a bridge, walk along a sidewalk or even relax in a park and not realize that there were once people who once lived in that spot. These people  once toiled, anguished and lived their lives in that very area we rush over and barely consider.  But Rachael Preston has given us a narrative to consider about one such area in her novel The Fishers of Paradise.

Page 1-2

The sledgehammers fall silent and the house shifts forward with a wooden groan. Like an aged swimmer anticipating the starter’s pistol, it wavers a moment in the wind, knees creaking with the newly uneven weight, and then, in a slow choreography, the stilts fold under themselves and the house slides into the marsh. Water and birds explode into flight, squirrels leap from bare trees. The sound, magnified by the geography of this enclave of lake and forest, by the stillness of the grey morning preceding it, ricochets a warning. The surface churns, and muskrats and beaver dive to the muddy bottom where carp and pike and bass huddle in the reeds. Water rushes over the porch of the two-storey home, washing against the door and window as the house lurches drunkenly in it own wake.

No sooner has the lake settled than the thrum of an engine, expensive, throaty, cuts through the silence that has claimed the small crowd gathered on their docks and porches to say goodbye. A gleaming mahogany powerboat noses out from between a set of weathered boathouse stilts like some exotic, temperamental animal and guns into the marsh, leaving behind the heady scent of gasoline. The boat alone, a Grew recently confiscated from bootleggers who ran contraband liquor across Lake Ontario, is worth standing outside in the November cold to see. Its current owner claims he can still smell the cordite along the three grooves carved portside by glancing bullets.

The driver circles the floating house, making it bob again, then eases back on the throttle and slows to an idle. His passenger turns in his seat to face the front door.

Everyone watches and waits.

Five minutes pass. Six.

Egypt Fisher stands at the shoreline, thinking her eyes might dry out from the wind if the door doesn’t open soon.

I always get grumped at if I don’t post a review for a while which usually means that I am savouring a book. And this book is worth savouring. Preston has truly crafted an engrossing story around a section of Hamilton, Canada that most people may not be aware that existed. Set in the hardships that occurred in the 1930s, teenage Egypt Fisher must deal with the gentrification plans that the city has planned for her boathouse community along the Dundas Marsh. And while that is going on, she starts out being thrilled that her estranged father has returned to the family fold, but it is soon apparent that events will soon rip her life completely apart.

Page 84-85

Egypt sits with her knees hugged to her chest, shins pressed against the table edge, and watches her mother from behind the veil of her hair. Blurred. Slamming cupboard doors, banging pots and dishes. Laura marches back to the wash basin and repeats her earlier scrabble through the mess of Russian dolls, lipstick tubes, envelopes, hair clips and pencils that sits on the odds-and-ends shelf below the mirror. Aidan watches Egypt pushing the cooling lumps of porridge around her bowl. She throws him a warning glance and then gathers a spoonful and dangles it beneath the table. George pads over to investigate, sniffs and flops down again by her feet. When Aidan giggles, she glares at him. Then at her mother’s back.

“So did you kick him out or did he leave again?” Her words part the air and free-fall slowly, landing with such a force that she stares at the kitchen floor, expecting to see a small crater. Her mother leans across the table and pulls Egypt’s hair back from her face.

“Your father has always marched to his own drummer.” Egypt recoils from her sour breath, her ragged, chewed-on lips. “And if you believe anything I have ever done or said has any influence on whether he comes or goes, then you haven’t been paying proper attention.”

“I heard everything you said last night.”

“No, you just think you heard everything. Aidan, go back upstairs while I talk to your sister.”

“But -”

“But nothing. Go.”

“But I can hear everything you’re saying from upstairs anyway,” he mumbles, dragging his feet towards the stairs.

“Now both my children talk back to me,” she says when Aidan has finished thudding up the stairs. “I suppose I have you to thank for that?” She’s back to searching drawers, inside the tea caddy, the pockets of jackets hanging by the door.

“And who do we thank for our absent father?”

Preston has mixed the right combination of historical and coming-of-age novel together here. Her words are vivid – not only in describing scenes but also in expressing emotions of her characters. There is at times a clear feeling between what a character is feeling and the reader experiencing it themselves. This is a book that should be read at leisure – not to be raced through- in order to appreciate the carefully chosen words and phrases that Preston has used.

Page 128-129

As far as home goes, she doesn’t trust herself not to snap around Laura. She even mention your grandparents? Not a word. Quite the feat when you think about it, keeping your parents from your daughter, your daughter from her grandparents. A virtuoso performance. Bravo, Mother. Egypt swallows a needle or rage. Ray presents another set of problems: years of pining over her father’s absence, of remembering and reconstructing her childhood in obsessive detail, and now that he’s here, in the flesh, Egypt finds herself chafing at the invasion of her home. He swings between a tetchy abrasiveness and protracted bouts of grim silence. Impossible to ignore, his moods, like tainted water, affect everyone who comes into contact with him, bar the bleary-eyed and leering friends he collects like stray dogs, and whom Egypt often finds (or hears) snoring on their couch in the morning. He can dismantle a room  – and its occupants – just by standing in the doorway. A blue pall of cigarette smoke hangs in the air even when he isn’t around. It’s as if half a dozen people have moved in with them. And he’s beginning to scare her. Having woken at the crack of dawn yesterday, she was first downstairs. Ray was sitting at the kitchen table, red-eyed and muttering to himself. His cot hadn’t been slept in. He looked hunted, cadaverous. The flesh had shrunk from his face in the night.

And yet, like the pricking wax and wane of nausea, Egypt senses the devastation she would feel if he left again. Ray Fisher is her dad, her family and though he wielded the news as a weapon – to hurt her or to make her stay and listen, she can’t decide which –  he has brought more family in his wake. A month ago, Egypt’s family numbered three. Now it stands at six.

The Fishers of Paradise by Rachael Preston is a read worthy to savour. It is vividly description and emotional and in a subtle way enlightening. In short, a pleasure to read.

*****

“I would say having lived in a lot of places affects what I write about, and the kinds of stories I’m drawn to: displaced people, the marginalized, those who don’t quite fit it” | Q&A with author Rachael Preston

Link to Rachael Preston’s website

Link to Wolsak & Wynn’s website for The Fishers of Paradise